Ravens bracing for Giants' Tuck, Kiwanuka

OWINGS MILLS -- The traditional outcome when Baltimore Ravens rookie quarterback Joe Flacco drops back to pass hasn't involved him being decked to the ground in a hurry.

Flacco generally has had sufficient time to throw and hasn't absorbed the sort of harsh, bone-rattling hits that tend to make any quarterback, let alone a relatively inexperienced one, gun-shy.

The first-round draft pick has been sacked just 17 times in nine starts even though the Ravens' offensive line has already had to pass-block several standouts.

That includes Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebackers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley, who combined for four sacks in the Ravens' 23-20 overtime loss, Tennessee Titans defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch and defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, who were shut out, the Indianapolis Colts' speedy ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis (three sacks), Miami Dolphins outside linebacker Joey Porter (two sacks) and Houston Texans defensive end Mario Williams (none).

Those highly-decorated defenders have combined for a total of nine sacks against Baltimore.

Now, the Ravens' young offensive line is bracing for a severe test Sunday against one of the fastest and most prolific pass-rushing tandems in the NFL. New York Giants defensive ends Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka have already applied a lot of heat to quarterbacks this season, combining for 13 1/2 sacks.

"They get after it," Flacco said. "They like to put pressure on the quarterback and try to force him to make mistakes. We've seen some good guys, and these guys are definitely good. We're going to handle it just like we've been handling the other guys all year, and we feel we have the guys to go up against them."

Over the past month during a four-game winning streak, Flacco has only been sacked seven times for an average of 1.75 surrendered per contest by Baltimore (6-3).

The Giants (8-1), though, rank third in the NFL with 30 sacks. And they're enjoying the luxury of not needing to blitz to create a pass rush.

Between Tuck (8 1/2 sacks), Kiwanuka (6 1/2), Fred Robbins (5 1/2), Dave Tollefson (3 1/2) and Barry Cofield (two), the Giants have gotten the vast majority of their sacks upfront from their stout defensive line.

"We've had good success with pressure from our front four," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said in a conference call Wednesday with Baltimore reporters. "When we've brought some form of dog or blitz, we've added to that and we've been able to pressure the quarterback to a certain extent."

"The result being that we've covered better, and we've done a better job of that in the secondary. So, it's allowed us to have some flexibility and some freedom, when we do have to cover, that we do have some people that can rush the passer."

A former third-round draft pick from Notre Dame, Tuck is uncommonly swift at 6-foot-5, 275 pounds.

And Kiwanuka, a former first-round pick from Boston College, is a similarly good athlete at 6-5, 265 pounds. He was starting at outside linebacker until Pro Bowl defensive end Osi Umenyiora suffered a season-ending knee injury during training camp, prompting a position switch.

"They fly around," tight end Todd Heap said. "They're stout upfront. They've got some great linebackers, great defensive ends that really get to the ball. They really put a lot of pressure on the quarterback, so that's the thing that stands out. They haven't lost too many games this year."

"They're challenging," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "That's for sure."

Without Umenyiora and Pro Bowl end Michael Strahan, who retired during the offseason after the Giants' Super Bowl victory over the New England Patriots, the New York pass rush remains potent.

"Tuck and Kiwanuka are both good players, just a little bit different," said offensive tackle Adam Terry, who will likely be blocking Tuck on the right side with Willie Anderson questionable due to a sprained left ankle. "They're both tough, strong, fast and play the point of attack well. They're young, up-and-coming players."

The Ravens shut down Williams a week ago, limiting him to no sacks in a 41-13 victory over the Texans. However, this game may call for an entirely different strategy for offensive line coach John Matsko.

Maximum protection, anyone?

"Each week is a different test," Terry said. "What Mario might do and how we might play against it might be totally different. Every snap is a test, and I think every game is a statement game for us."

Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is determined to force Flacco to commit some mistakes, to try to rattle him into throwing his first interception in a month.

While the Ravens have already seen many of the top front sevens in the league, this may mark their stiffest test to date.

"The toughest?" center Jason Brown said. "We've gone against some very challenging defensive lines. Of course, very large men like [Cleveland Browns nose guard] Shaun Rogers and also very athletic men, Vanden Bosch on the outside with Tennessee. This week, it will definitely be another challenge."


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